24th June, 2022

GK Point of View – Digital Strategy announced during London Tech Week

GK Associate, Nicole Wyatt, analyses the biggest talking points from the recently published Digital Strategy. 

The British Government published its new 2022 Digital Strategy to commence London Tech Week on 13th June.

As its name suggests, London Tech Week ran across five days in the UK’s capital and brought together over 20,000 governmental and corporate leaders from around the world including a hologram-version of Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky. Besides the Digital Strategy, other policy announcements included the UK’s digital trade agreement with Singapore (which is already coming into force), a health data strategy, and the ’Future of compute’ review.

The mere fact that London has its own tech-focused week, including thousands of fringe events, illustrates how the city (and the UK more widely) is at the centre of the broader tech ecosystem. Indeed, the UK’s tech sector raised £27.4 billion in private capital in 2021 – more than any other European country – and Boris Johnson’s government is putting a particularly strong emphasis on digital and tech policy. This is evidenced by the fact that, for example, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) is handling a larger number of legislative bills than any other government department.

Digital policy is also a way for the UK Government to diverge from the European Union’s regulatory framework, particularly as far as data is concerned. Just after London Tech Week, in fact, Ministers published their response to the consultation ‘Data: a new direction’, which seeks to reinvigorate the UK’s data regime to promote more competition and innovation than was possible under EU rules, especially with its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – which critics regarded as excessively complex.

The Digital Strategy, itself, is an update on its 2017 predecessor. It suggests that its proposed approach to supporting and strengthening the UK’s digital economy could grow its tech sector by an additional £41.5 billion by 2025 and create a further 678,000 jobs, while making the UK a world leader in artificial intelligence (AI), semiconductor design and quantum computing.

The Strategy sets out the Government’s vision for harnessing digital transformation and building a more inclusive, competitive and innovative digital economy. It focuses on six key areas:

  • Digital foundations: developing the UK’s digital infrastructure and strengthening regulations around data, competition and security, to support the Government’s pro-innovation agenda.
  • Ideas and intellectual property: supporting the UK’s innovation ecosystem to foster growing R&D initiatives among universities and in private sector businesses.
  • Digital skills and talent: increasing the supply of digitally and tech-enabled workers throughout the supply chain to promote greater economic prosperity, through (among other initiatives) strengthening the digital education pipeline and attracting the best global talent.
  • Financing digital growth: encouraging UK capital with incentives such as tax reliefs for start-ups and businesses, which will improve the tech ecosystem to ensure that Britain remains one of the best places to start and run a digital technology business.
  • Spreading prosperity and levelling up: exploring how everyone from every industry can benefit from digital innovation in the UK, while also supporting the net zero agenda.
  • Enhancing the UK’s place in the world: influencing tech policy beyond the UK’s borders to be a trailblazer in this space, as well as collaborating through strong international partnerships.

Included in the Strategy is an annex of all of the Government’s new and ongoing initiatives to support, in practice, its strategic aims. Some of the new initiatives announced include:

  • Establishment of a joint UK/US Prize Challenge to accelerate the development of Privacy-Enhancing Technologies (PETs).
  • Creation of a Digital Skills Council, to replace the Digital Skills Partnership Board, as a form of liaison between government and industry on how to address digital skills shortages.
  • Review into the ‘Future of compute – seeking to create recommendations for improving the country’s computing capacity over the next decade.
  • A revised version of the UK digital identity trust framework, with a related consultation seeking views on the Government’s proposed approach.

Notably, artificial intelligence (AI) as well as other rapidly growing fields such as blockchain and quantum computing, were included but with only limited details. As many other governments are concluding, this is currently a highly unregulated space and many hotly debated discussions are taking place about if, where and how legislate. The UK is seeking to lead the way but exactly how it will do so will be revealed in an eagerly anticipated AI White Paper.

Overall, this Digital Strategy seems to be largely a recap of what the UK Government is already doing, and striving to do, across various departments in order to shift digital policy to be more pro-innovation and pro-competition. Announced at London Tech Week, the motives behind the new Strategy, just five years after the previous version was published, demonstrate the UK Government’s desire to showcase the nation as a leader in digitalisation.